3 takeaways from USC's Holiday Bowl victory over Louisville
USC secured its first bowl victory since 2016 on Wednesday night with a 42-28 win over No. 15 Louisville.
The Trojans (8-5) were fueled by third-year quarterback Miller Moss, who tied a Pac-12 conference postseason record with six touchdown passes in his first career start.
Louisville (10-4) took an early lead and, even after USC made its run to take control of the game, never really let the Trojans feel comfortable.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
USC was without Caleb Williams for the game, so it turned to backup Miller Moss — a third-year Angelino making his first career start. In the first half, he played out of his mind.
He tied a Holiday Bowl single-game record for touchdown passes with four — all in the game’s first 30 minutes. He completed 13 of his 18 first-half passes for 214 yards and four scores, didn’t take a sack, fired bullets, and completed several touch passes downfield for points.
Early in the third quarter, Moss was driving the Trojans for potentially a 35-14 lead, but was picked off at the goal line instead. He was a touch off on an out route to the pylon and paid for it.
But he followed that back up with an 11-play, 53-yard touchdown march. There was some major chemistry with USC wideout Ja’Kobi Lane, who was on the receiving end of Moss’s fifth touchdown pass of the night. And that was a score that proved pretty important.
.@cantGuardJak1 went up HIGH for that one ✌️
— USC Football ✌️ (@uscfb) December 28, 2023
It wrestled momentum back for the Trojans.
And then, on USC’s next possession, Moss delivered the dagger.
Louisville had USC facing with a third-and-10. Cardinal running back Isaac Guerendo scored his third rushing touchdown of the game on the prior drive and USC fans were sweating giving the ball back to him in a seven-point game.
Drifting back and to his left, Moss threw a “make a play” ball up for Tahj Washington and his receiver rewarded him.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 28, 2023
On the next play, Moss threw his sixth touchdown of the game — a 44-yard dime to freshman Duce Robinson.
THERE GOES THAT MAN… for the sixth time tonight! 🗣️
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 28, 2023
USC head coach Lincoln Riley called a strong game for Moss. Just the right mix of easy completions and shot plays. Moss was in command and USC looked to be in the kind of offensive rhythm that just wasn’t there for long stretches late in the season.
Moss finished with 372 passing yards and six touchdowns against one interception while completing 23 of his 33 passes. And that was with no run game to speak of — held to 67 rushing yards.
There’s a case to be made for Moss as the starting quarterback at USC next season. The Trojans have been heavily linked to Kansas State transfer Will Howard, but no move has publicly been made yet. Even if Riley is blown away with the performance from Moss, USC absolutely still needs to add a quarterback to the room.
It just might not need a starter. That question may have been answered.
Louisville works the edges
Isaac Guerendo kept the Cardinals in the game.
Louisville didn’t exactly find consistent success going up the gut. And quarterback Jack Plummer had to grind for every single yard. He completed 20 of his 24 passes for 130 yards with an injured throwing hand. The volume wasn’t there.
But when Louisville got Guerendo to the outside, good things happened.
The former Badger ran for a career-high 161 yards and three touchdowns on a career-high 23 attempts. He had four explosive runs. He also became the first Louisville player in school history to go for 150-plus yards and three or more scores on the ground in a bowl game.
USC was going through a bowl game with a patchwork defensive staff — three new hires weren’t coaching on that side of the ball — but things looked better in some respects. Still, the deficiencies at the line of scrimmage were still there.
The Trojans struggled all night to set the edge. The Cards were able to make them pay for that.
As a team, Louisville ran for 220 yards on the ground — its fifth 200-yard game this season.
Mistakes doom the Cards
Louisville picked off Miller Moss at the goal line early in the third quarter. The Trojans were looking to deliver the knockout blow and Louisville got itself off the ropes.
But the Cardinals had a pair of critical fumbles, they had a punt blocked, and they missed an easy fourth-down conversion with just under five to play that could have been a touchdown.
Isaac Guerendo scored the game’s opening touchdown. USC missed a field goal on its next possession and gave the ball back to Louisville. On the first play of the drive, Jack Plummer was stripped, USC recovered, and Miller Moss threw a touchdown three plays later.
That was the start of a 21-0 run from the Trojans that flipped the game.
When USC took a 14-7 lead early in the second, Louisville responded with a three-and-out and then got its punt blocked from its own 31-yard-line, setting the Trojans up in the red zone. Moss threw another touchdown three plays later.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter and, trailing by 14 with 4:48 to play, Louisville faced a fourth-and-6 from the USC 16.
Plummer had Jadon Thompson wide open for a first down. Thompson may have even gone for a touchdown. Plummer’s throw was behind, and Thompson lost his balance trying to contort his body to make the catch. He fell, untouched, 2 yards short of the line to gain.
Louisville got one more shot at it with 1:32 to play, but Thompson had the ball punched out of his possession on the first play of the drive and USC pounced on the loose football.
USC made a mistake. Louisville made the mistakes.